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A Learning Review of Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance in Afghanistan

8 April 2024 — By Leo Nalugon, Md. Moniruzzaman

In 2022, Islamic Relief Worldwide implemented a multi-million emergency humanitarian project in Afghanistan supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded Area-based Approach for Development Emergency Initiative (ABADEI) programme.

The 13-month-long project had three main components: the rehabilitation of irrigation facilities, multi-purpose cash assistance, and women’s entrepreneurship. This report focuses on the unconditional and multi-purpose cash assistance component of the ABADEI project to draw lessons that can be used for future projects.

The study found the unconditional and multi-purpose cash assistance programme to be largely successful, with widespread reach allowing rightsholders to spend it on what they need most.

The coverage and scope of the unconditional and multipurpose cash assistance programme was broad, benefitting a total of 6,636 individuals across Balkh, Kandahar, and Paktika provinces. This exceeds the initial target of 5,500 beneficiaries by 20 per cent. The average cash aid provided per household amounted to $373 (approx. £294). In total, nearly $2.5 million (approx. £2 million) was disbursed overall.

Rightsholders overwhelmingly favoured cash transfers as an aid modality, citing their efficacy in meeting basic needs and improving slightly the quality of life. Cash grants were primarily used for food (by 65 per cent of beneficiaries), followed by basic household expenses (20 per cent) and medical expenses (6 per cent).

Partnerships with hawalas (an informal method of transferring money, including across borders, through a network of money brokers referred to as ‘hawaladers’) were instrumental in reaching remote areas, underscoring the importance of collaborating with local partners and communities for successful aid delivery.

However, there are areas for improvement. While the targeting process was diverse and effective, the majority of respondents were male, married, and young adults, suggesting a potential gap in reaching other vulnerable groups such as unmarried individuals, widows, and the elderly.

Despite both men and women preferring cash assistance, the study reveals a gender disparity in control over spending. Women reported less control compared to men and prioritised essential needs.

Additionally, while recipients felt safe during distribution, there was a lack of recipient involvement in programme design and distribution. Finally, while a complaints system existed, few utilised it, suggesting either barriers to using it or a lack of awareness about its effectiveness.

The study provides valuable insights for future cash programming initiatives which have resulted in some key recommendations:

Strengthen community-based selection: The study highlights the importance of a diverse, community-based, and transparent approach to ensure that the programme effectively reaches those who need it most.

Expand reach: Strategies are needed to ensure the programme reaches beyond the current demographic of mostly male, married, and young adults, and also benefits other vulnerable groups such as unmarried individuals, widows, and the elderly.

Monitor cash usage: Regularly monitoring how the cash is used is crucial to assess the programme’s effectiveness and identify areas for further improvement.

Strengthen hawala partnerships: While crucial for reaching remote areas, further research, due diligence and alternative solutions are needed to ensure responsible partnerships with informal financial service providers.

Empower women: It is crucial to empower women in managing the cash assistance, potentially through financial literacy training or addressing underlying cultural norms that limit their control.

Strengthen the complaints system: Increase awareness and accessibility of the complaints system, including simplifying the process, providing better communication about its existence and effectiveness, and ensuring it is culturally appropriate and accessible to all rightsholders.

By implementing these recommendations, future cash assistance programmes can become more inclusive, empowering, and effective in achieving their goals of helping vulnerable populations.